by Shahida Sweeney

Australia lags behind on ICT innovation: NICTA

Mar 02, 20153 mins
Government IT

Australia’s peak ICT research group, NICTA (National ICT Australia) has warned that Australia is lagging behind on building its knowledge capital and investments in innovation.

NICTA’s technology strategist, Dean Economou, notes that Australia is “going backwards” in terms of its technology capability and business innovation.

Economou, a keynote speaker at the recent Tech Leaders Forum in the Blue Mountains, observed that Australia is a world leader is terms of its investments in physical capital. But as a developed nation, the country is falling behind on its knowledge base, and intellectual capital.

“As a nation, we’re lagging behind in knowledge capital,” he said. “Our RD needs to get out there. Right now, our RD is at the bottom of this space.”

The future lies in investing in inventiveness and collaboration between industry, government and education, he said. “We need to be better at managing our start-ups, and have the capability to source venture capital money.”

The broader goal is creating open and transparent government while nurturing the industry’s technology capabilities.

Self-sustaining model

In the cash-strapped domestic ICT sector, NICTA faces its own funding shortfalls. Since last year, this has involving budget cuts, as flagged by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Minister Turnbull earlier noted that NICTA needs to move to a “self-sustaining model” beyond a two-year funding window. The organisation’s available funds of $84.9 million are being maintained during 2014-2015.

The Department of Communications and the Australian Research Council are each contributing $21.4 million in 2014–15 and $21.0 million in 2015–16. After this point, NICTA will not receive any additional direct funding from the federal government. Instead, NICTA will fund itself directly and through industry and educational partners.

Turnbull noted that “It was always expected that funding from the private sector would play an increasingly important role in supporting NICTA’s operations.”

On its own feet

NICTA’s build-up in commercial revenue, through partnerships with domestic and overseas firms, demonstrates the organisation can source funds from wide-ranging sources, Turnbull said.

“In recognition of NICTA’s maturity and current stage of development, the government considers the time is approaching for NICTA to stand on its own feet from June 2016,” said Turnbull.

From 2002 to 2015, NICTA attracted an estimated $564.5 million in overall government and broader funds. Contributors have included the Australian Capital Territory, as well as the New South Wales, Queensland and Victorian governments.

Educational partnerships galvanised the Australian National University, University of New South Wales, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, Griffith University, Queensland University of Technology, Monash University and other university partners.

NICTA is a leading organisation that focuses on ICT research. It has built its foundational ICT research, and spun off that research into start-up companies. It also licenses and helps commercialise the technology being developed in collaboration with other organisations.

NICTA’s collaboration includes joint projects with wide-ranging ICT industries, and developing the technology and intellectual property portfolio. With more than 700 people across five laboratories nationally, NICTA has built a substantial PhD program.

Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney